Andrew and Christine Sebire are the first to admit they have still got a lot to learn when it comes to growing crops on their Echuca dairy farm.
The dairy farmers turned to growing grain as a natural progression for their business when they acquired some additional land eight years ago. Already self-sufficient in hay and silage, growing grain is the last piece in the fodder puzzle for the couple, but it hasn’t come without its share of trials and tribulations.
The couple grows 30 to 50 per cent of the grain requirements for the 500-cow split-calving herd.
Yields are currently sitting about 4tonne/ha and, while this is a bit lower than the average of 6tonne/ha, the couple said being an end user of the product did compensate for some of this.
“We are willing to take on board and learn new things but the major focus of our business is still the dairy side. Cropping does come last and our management at times has affected our yields,” Mr Sebire said.
The ability to irrigate some of the cropping area is the block’s biggest downfall.
“The infrastructure is not great and it does limit our ability to deliver water properly – our permanent pasture and shaftal for the milking herd is always our priority, but we are working on that part of our business to make it better,” Mr Sebire said.
He said while they were used to growing pasture, cropping had been a whole new ball game.
“The best piece of advice I can give to someone is to surround yourself with a good mix of agronomists, contractors and farmers. We don’t have any of the gear so we rely heavily on contractors do all the work.
“We have done a lot of things wrong over the years but having a good relationship with our agronomist is the most important thing.
“When they are telling you to do something it can be difficult if cash flow is tight and you are not confident of the outcome. It’s a bit like laying a bet really, especially when you are outlaying a lot of capital for spray, seed and fertiliser.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson the Sebires have learned to date is storing the grain on-farm in a grain bag.
they sent their grain off to the feed mill and it came back with a pro mix, but they had to pay double freight – there and back. They tried a feed company but their grain came back with rocks in it, which wrecked their roller mill. And storing grain with their neighbours was less than ideal.
Then they got onto storing their grain in a grain bag on-farm.
“The contractor puts the grain straight into the bag and it’s done. We have 200tonne of grain storage at the dairy which is enough to hold one grain bag so we just empty the bags and fill up the silos at the dairy which is a quick and easy process,” Mr Sebire said.
This season the farm is sown down to 90ha of wheat, 70ha of vetch, 50ha of oats, 180ha of shaftal and 90ha of perennial pasture.
“Our preference is to grow wheat because the cows seem to milk better off it,” Mr Sebire said.
“We have changed things up a bit this year. Last year our vetch was a failure so we have sown cereal with it to give it a bit of bulk and we think it will make pretty good silage. The wheat is looking good too.”
Mr Sebire said keeping the system flexible was the key to success.
“If grain isn’t achievable we can always cut the crop for hay and silage. Experience and knowledge is helping us get better at making the right decision for the particular season.”
The Sebires are always keen to participate in events and field days because they believe they are a great way to learn from other farmers and see how new ideas are implemented.
“We both enjoy getting off-farm and seeing what other farmers are doing. It is a great way to pick up ideas that have been tested by others and you can always learn something new,” Mr Sebire said.
The 2017-18 season has got off to a much better start than the previous year’s wet and muddy one.
“It has been a fabulous winter compared to last year. The cows are milking well, the crops are looking good and we have swapped milk companies which has taken a fair bit of stress and worry away for us.”
The Sebires believe there is a great future in the industry and they are looking forward to their years ahead. They are at peak herd number for their dairy at the moment but are considering a dairy renovation in the future.
“We have a few things to improve infrastructure wise before we get around to a dairy but I wouldn’t rule out milking more cows if we get the dairy done,” Mr Sebire said.